The FEAR franchise and I go way back, the first title being one of the first horror-based games I ever got up the courage to play. With its gloomy atmosphere, chilling sound design and demonic little girl who kept creeping through my nightmares, my psyche has never been quite the same since. A fantastic blend of scares and gunplay, the sequel managed to deliver a similarly blood curdling experience while helping push the twisted storyline into a truly grotesque new direction. During FEAR 3‘s ( or F3AR if you want to get all stylish) somewhat distracted development cycle, I found myself really looking forward to a return to the main storyline and taking a few dark nights to really scare myself silly (which proved promising during my time with the demo at E3). Now that I’ve finally had some time with this thirdÂ installment, I find myself asking one important question over and over again: Where’s the FEAR?
FEAR 3 takes place a short while after the city of Fairport was decimated by a massive psychic explosion set off during the somewhat parallel events of the first two games. Alma, the series’ resident crazy demon child and force of extremely potent psycho-horrific power, sexually assaulted (yeah, you read that right) the sequel’s protagonist and is now with child.Â Her contractions are tearing a hole in the fabric of reality and a whole manner of nastiness is coming through. Her first two children, the silent Point Man and cannibalistic Paxton Fettel (now merely a malevolent spirit after his brother shot him in the head) are nowÂ heading back to where this all began to confront Alma and pursue their own unique agendas. With military corporation Armacham trying to contain Alma and sweep the Fairport disaster under the rug, you’ll have your hands full fighting their forces as well as the horrors Alma’s pregnancy seems to be drawing to our reality.
FEAR 3 is lugging a lot of plot-based baggage, but Day One Studios try to sprinkle enough back-story throughout to keep everyone up to speed. That being said, the newer aspects of the plot don’t really seem all that compelling and I felt the game spent too much time treading old ground and not enough time getting players invested in an intriguing new storyline. The brothers dynamic isÂ well crafted and having Fettel around to constantly voice his maniacally dark thoughts provides some great tone that is otherwise lost with your main silent protagonist. FEAR games always have had a penchant for obscure and sluggish plots, but whereas the first two titles managed to shake things up with some nice plot twists and interesting new developments, there’s no similar intrigue or payoffs to be had here.
Even worse is their new approach to what I always felt really separated FEAR from the FPS pack. This game just doesn’t scare. Sure, there are a few pop-out-and-say-boo moments and some creepy confined spaces, but FEAR 3 has taken the Modern Warfare approach of embracing big set piece moments instead of pant-wetting terror. Even though the fights are thrilling and some of the locales are downright creepy, all the tricks they use to try and freak you out, I’ve seen before. As much as I enjoyed the gunplay and action,Â this just didn’t feel like a FEAR game.
On the flip side, gameplay takes the franchise’s already well founded mechanics and uses them to reinvigorate the co-op based experience. There are two unique twists on FPS mechanics: the Point Man’s reflex enhanced bullet-time and Fettel’s spirit possession. The Point Man plays like your average commando and the slow-mo abilities players have come to know and love remain just as satisfying. Once you’ve beaten a level, you unlock the ability to replay it as Fettel, and this is where activities take a more “Exorcist” turn. Thanks to Fettel being dead, he can lift enemies into the air, shoot bolts of energy and possess his foes in order to utilize weaponry. It’s a real treat to hop into a body and take it for a spin before overloading it into a bloody mist. Fights are fast and furious thanksÂ to clever enemies and a level/ ammo placement design that allows for players to get tactical when choosing how to approach an engagement.
Playing as either the Point Man or Fettel is kind of groovy, but FEAR 3 really takes off once you have a friend grab a controller. First, Fettel’s power to lift foes out of cover makes them easy pickings for his brother, while possession over a sizeable distance allows you to turn the tables if, say, a sniper has you both pinned down. Intriguingly, when the Point Man engages his Slow-Mo ability, Fettel is taken along for the ride giving you both double the opportunities to really whittle down the enemy during one of these bullet-time bursts. The real genius, however, lies in the Challenge system. Keeping tally of things like time spent in cover, melees, chain kills and headshots, the Challenge system sets goals for players and assigns points to them. Sort of like miniature achievements, they encourage competition in order to attain the coveted “Favorite Son” title at the end of each level. Also available in single-player, the system is insanely addictive as it encourages players to hone their skills and really utilize every tool and ability at their disposal to complete levels with the highest score possible.
But, therein lies the rub. If you play by yourself, the game’s atmosphere and meager scares resonate better, but pairing up with a friend will lead to some truly amazing co-op sessions where cooperation and competition are in a constant and gloriously addictive state of flux. That’s FEAR 3‘s fatal flaw, the way each mode holds the other back. In the end, FEAR 3 is a solid FPS experience with incredibly visceral fights, decent story and a really addictive scoring system that subtly encourages players to really dig deep into the gameplay. Unfortunately, due to the loss in horror I wondered why this game really had to take place in the FEAR universe at all. It’s a really well designed game, but it just doesn’t seem to embrace all of the tenants that made me fall in love with the fear.